Alors, aujourd'hui est la commémoratif de mon premier mois dans France!
One month ago, on the 4th of September, approxiamately 11 hours ago, my time, I was arriving in my little village of Mûrs-Erigné for the first time, meeting my family for the first time, eating authentic homemade French food for the first time, being fully immersed in French every minute of the day for the first time... A lot of firsts. It's weird to think that it's been one month because it feels like it's been a lot longer, and yet at the same time, a lot shorter. Time seems to fly and crawl at the same time and I know that's not physically possible but that's what it's like. The days seem long (especially during Histoire/Géo and Math!) but I look at my agenda or it comes round to Friday night and I feel like I was on the same place of the week just days ago. It's pretty bizarre but I can't really control it so I guess I'll just live with it.
I guess, since it's been one month, I'm supposed to write some stuff about culture and whatever. Well, it's been pretty different. There are some times when I definitely feel different, when I do something, like laugh really loudly in the street, and I can tell I'm getting some pretty weird looks. It's funny though because I feel almost proud of my differences which, for me, feeling proud of being American is weird. Then of course there is the language. I feel like I've progressed a lot and it comes out when I realize I just explained the physics of optic lenses and the relation between eyes and magnifying glasses to my classmate in semi-decent French. Also, it's weird because texting, or SMSing as it's fondly called here, is often associated with bad vocabulary and horrifying grammar but I've learned a lot by having to write everything on a little screen. It's helped me get better at explaining myself when I don't have all the time or space, in the world to do so. It's actually kind of fun now, texting, because every time I get an SMS and I respond it's like a little challenge against my knowledge to explain myself in a way that makes sense and communicates the point of what I'm saying. In French. Another thing is trying to talk with my friends when I don't have my portable dictionary on hand. It usually involves a lot of gestures and acting and I get a lot of weird looks and laughs from people walking in half-way through but it's fun and in the end, they usually understand me. I never thought it I would say it, but it's pretty fun living in a world where you don't understand everything and talk perfectly because it forces you to learn and adapt and try alternative methods of communication. Not to say I enjoy not knowing what's going on around me but with friends it's fun because I get to really practice my French and learn a lot, minus the embarrassment of sitting in class or talking with an adult or teacher. Me and my friends, we have a lot of good laughs at the expense of my knowledge or the French language and I love it.
So now that I've been here a month, I think it's time I do some stereotype bashing because every-time I see something that relates to some stupid stereotype of the French I want to make sure people know it's wrong. Alors...
The French talk really fast: vrai et faux, en même temps! This one is actually pretty funny because I had a conversation with my family the other night about this very stereotype. François was telling me he thought I spoke too fast for a beginner and I needed to slow down and I explained that I was just trying to be French. He had no idea what I was talking about so I told him the stereotype that all French speak really fast. He was a little taken aback, because apparently that's what they think about us Americans too! However, for me, this has been true and false. In class, when the teachers are giving la leçon de la jour, I definitely think they're talking really fast, but this could also be because I don't understand a fair amount of what they're saying! So I think this stereotype will ring true for every culture because obviously you're going to talk faster if you're with your friends and everyone understand the language 100%. However, here in France, I find that people don't speak particularly fast when engaged in every day conversation. Maybe a little, to my ears, but that's because I don't understand too well.
The French are rude and brief: faux! It's a common belief that French people are rude and they don't like to hang and talk very brief and to-the-point. This is not true. First of all, French people are not rude at all! Well, not any more than any other culture. You've always got some bad eggs in the mix, of course, but there definitely is NOT an excess of "bad eggs" here in France. As for being brief and concise, that's not really true either and from what I've learned, when they are brief, it's out of respect for your time. If you stop someone on the street, or go into a store to ask a question, they don't want to take up a lot of your time by giving you over-extensive, never-ending answers and questions to your questions, and such. Instead, out of respect for you, they keep it short and concise. So while the stereotype may be true sometimes, although mostly it really isn't, it's entirely misinterpreted by foreigners.
The French are dirty: faux! This also is not true at all. Again, it's a misinterpretation. So something that I, and a lot of other people, learned only by experience, is that it's normal, even expected to wear the exact same outfit two days in a row. No more, no less. The two days, I wore a different sweater and shirt to school the second day and I looked around and realized I was the only one. It was really funny, because I saw gabe in the hallway and commented on it and he told he was wearing different clothes too (from yesterday) and that he felt weird because of it. Now this whole wearing clothes two days straight thing, it's not because they don't like to clean it's just because it doesn't make sense to go through five shirts in one week instead of two or three. Especially if they're not dirty. And the dirty thing: French people don't wear dirty clothes, even if they only wore them for one day. That's an exception to the rule. Apart from that, the French are very meticulous about their appearance, both clothes and body, do like to be presentable at all times. I do have to admit, I like not seeing people walking around in pajamas in school. It just makes for a better atmosphere.
The French all chain-smoke: ehh... vrai et faux! This is an accurate and inaccurate stereotype. It's true that a lot of French do smoke and even at school, with kids my age or younger, you see a lot of people rolling cigarettes in the hall (they all roll here so the first day I was at school, I thought everybody was smoking joints!) and a lot of people smoking outside between classes or before/after school but then there are those who absolutely don't smoke. It's funny because some people smoke a lot and other refuse to touch a cigarette. However, it's very normal to smoke here and when you see someone my age smoking, you don't think "Oh, it horrible, that 16-year old smoking at such a young age" even if it isn't so great, but rather here it's normal. In fact, if I wanted I could to into any Tabac and buy tobacco, papers, lighter and filters, everything I need to start up. And though it isn't legal, no one really cares because they're not going to turn down business.
The French hate Americans: en général, faux! This is also a weird one because while Americans are in general in a negative light, it's also true that almost every French teen wants to go to America. The thing about Americans being fat and slobbish and such isn't common belief, but rather a kind of joke about Americans, although the fact that the stereotypes do often apply doesn't really help our case very much! So I wouldn't say the French hate American rather that they don't always have the best ideas of them, much in the same way a lot of Americans don't hold the French in the best regards.
French men are gay: faux! For some stupid reason, a lot of people think that French men are gay. I guess, this is somehow because they are dressed well and not always trying to show off muscles or get in fights to prove manliness...?? The idea of masculinity here is different that in America, where it's pretty bad and makes for a lot of problems. Also, France is known for things like beautiful countryside, food and wine and fashion which give it a slightly more feminine air, at least that's what other people think. Rather, the French just live on a slightly higher, and yes, slight more civilized, level than a lot of other countries, definitely including America.
France, and living/vacationing here, is really expensive: vrai et faux! This all depends on who you are and where you come from. If you're European, no, France is relatively normal and with some things, very well priced. But for Americans, yes it does tend to be a little pricey. I've noticed that my money doesn't seem to lsat particularly long here, but it's explainable by one simple fact: the French (and a lot od Europe, for that matter) have a higher quality of life. It's not expensive to them because for them it evens out. Coming from America, it is expensive, but if you live in France, you get paid the French level wage, it's not très chère because while they pay more for what they buy, they also get paid more for their work. Everything is just one level up, but to a foreigner, yes, it's fairly expensive.
The French despise those who don't/can't speak their language well: faux! It's not that they hate you because you struggle with the language: they just are very proud of their language, and with good reason too because it's very complicated and mastery of French is an amazing achievement. Oh yeah, and it's beautiful and romantic and all that. But even so, I find that they're not scornful of my when I butcher their verb tenses; rather, they're eager to help me get better at French so I can speak well and not make a public disgrace of the French language. It's all about pride...
The French are very proud of their country, culture, etc.: vrai! Yes, it's true that they do like to show off their country but again, it's only natural because they really should be proud to come from such an amazing place. Hell, if I was from France, I would be proud too. However, it's not the snobby kind of pride that a lot of people think they have. The French just like to demonstrate and share the awesomeness of their country. For example, I think I've told this story but a while ago when we had a special cheese, François was very quick to whip out the atlas and tell me where it was from and how it was special to that region. In my experience, it's the same with wine and les gateaux. Even, nativity: François was talking to me about where he was from (Bretagne) and he was showing me on a map and telling me about the specialties from that region and what it's like there and it's not that he was showing off his heritage, he just genuinely wanted me to know and to learn about France and it's amazing history, culture, etc.
Well that's enough for now because, yes, again, it's 11PM and I still need to hand-write my final draft of a dialogue between Fontenelle, Voltaire and Pascal discussing science and philosophy between today and their time: yay!!